All the universities that win big in today’s announcement of Australian Research Council grants

A new international education code of conduct in the spring

plus All the new ARC Laureates 

Union demands a vote on Curtin management offer while Newcastle to restructure services


Forget all the talk about more women in engineering: when deans meet it’s still a bloke’s club


Build it and they will (still) come

“Not many of us pick up a newspaper each morning, not many of us go into a bank and not many of us may go down to the shopping mall to buy – well, almost anything anymore,” University of Newcastle VC Caroline McMillen to staff last week. Of course, this will not happen to universities, otherwise UniNewcastle would not have an ambitious CBD building programme.

Hooray for Holmes

Edward Holmes is on a roll. Last month the University of Sydney infectious diseases researcher was named a foreign member of the Royal Society. This morning the Australian Research Council makes him a Laureate Fellow with $3.4m for his research.

New rules coming in international education

A new code of conduct for international education providers is due in the Spring, which means nobody should worry about the one rushed out in April.

The new code will address a bunch of stuff, including institutions’ duty of care for international students under 18 and processes governing course transfer. Observers also expect it to change the amount of a course that can be delivered on-line, from a quarter to a third. There is a push on behalf of some very large providers to increase this much higher. This is not expected to succeed, given international students do not spend one bucket of money on fees and another on living expenses to study on-screen in Australia when they could do that at home.

So, what’s with the code quietly announced in February and  law on April 9? It is needed to make the deadline imposed by legislation. Apparently, the bureaucracy is behind the original schedule in getting the substantive one ready.

Rather than a rushed and secretive process, industry consultations took two years and there is a pile of provider submissions, which CMM hears will be public in a couple of months.


Research rewarded: $170m in funding from the ARC announced

It’s the eight and daylight in the cash race

The universities of Sydney ($22.7m) and Queensland ($22.6m) lead in Australian Research Council funding, Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham will announce this morning.

The other members of the Group of Eight follow and all up the Go8 will receive close to 80 per cent of the $170.6m for the announced Laureate Fellowships, Future Fellowships, Industrial Transformation Research Hubs, and Industrial Transformation Teaching Centres.

After UniSyd and UoQ the big winners are UNSW $20.70m, University of Melbourne $19.7m, Monash U $18.2m, ANU $14.2m, University of Adelaide $11.9m and University of Western Australia $3.9m. However, UWA is closely followed by Curtin U, with $3.5m.

The second tier of winners are Deakin U with $7.7m, University of Wollongong $4.8m, University of Newcastle $4.5m, QUT $4.08 and Curtin U, accounting for a combined $24.98m.

Notable laureates

The Georgina Sweet Laureate Fellowship for a woman in science and technology disciplines goes to ANU’s Ann McGrath. Michelle Coote, also from ANU receives the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellowship for HASS. Each award provides $100 000 over five years in addition to recipients’ Laureate project funding, for promoting women in research.

Laureate Fellows

17 Laureate Fellows are announced. ANU: Ann McGrath, analysing epic Australian indigenous narratives. Gottfried Otting, functions of proteins.  Michelle Coote, catalysts to accelerate and control the chemical reactions used in the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and materials. UNSW: Fedor Sukochev, problem solving in non-commutative calculus. Jill Bennett: using visualisation technology to understand “stigmatised and devalued populations.” University of Newcastle: George Willis, a “mathematical tool for analysing the symmetry of infinite networks.” University of Sydney: Dacheng Tao, mathematic foundations for deep-learning based compute vision. Edward Holmes, virus ecology and evolution. Paul Griffiths, “a philosophy of medicine for the 21st century.” QUT: Christopher Barner-Kowollik, using light as a construction tool in advanced manufacturing. University of Queensland: Xiu Song Zhao, electrochemical energy storage. Zhiguo Yuan, conversion of liquid chemicals from biogas.  University of Adelaide, Mathia Varghese, “novel techniques to investigate geometric analysis on infinite dimensional bundles.” Shizhang Qiao, solar-driven sustainable production of fuels and chemicals. Deakin University: Svetha Venkatesh, pattern recognition to “navigate complexity” in experimental processes. University of Melbourne: Geoffrey McFadden, genetic tools for biomedicine and biotechnology. University of Western Australia, Colin MacLeod, cognitive basis of productive/unproductive worry.

Industrial Transformation Research Hubs

Victoria picked up all three IRT hubs. Deakin University’s John Grundy with academic colleagues and industry partners has $2.9m for the Hub for Digital Enhanced Living which will work on, “enhanced capacity to create and deploy fit-for-purpose personalised health solutions,” for the aged to remain in their own homes. Xiwang Zhan from Monash, leads a $4m project on separation technology for advanced manufacturing. Gill Garnier, also from Monash has $2.6m for the ARC Research Hub for Processing Lignocellulosics into high value products, which wants to convert biomass and waste from paper, pulp and forest products into packaging for pharmaceutical, chemicals, plastics and food industries.

Industrial Transformation Training Centres

The University of Melbourne leads, being allocated three of the nine. ITTCs went to; UNSW:  Guan Yeoh, to create a research workforce developing fire retardant materials and structures. University of Sydney: Hala Zreiqat and colleagues to train graduates in musculoskeletal biomedical technologies. Iver Cairns, to produce experts in cubesats and unmanned aerial vehicles. University of Wollongong: Buddhima Indraratna, specialist training in rail construction and maintenance. University of Queensland: David Reutens, to train 20 “industry-ready innovation scientists” in biomedical imaging. University of Adelaide: Vladimir Jiranek, to train scientists to improve wine production. University of Melbourne: Anastasios Polyzo is funded for a new industry-led higher degree programme on chemicals in manufacturing. Alastair Stewart to develop personalised therapeutics, and Timothy Baldwin to create a workforce, expert in data-driven and machine learning-based medical technologies.

The bottom line

A platoon of Paulines could not generate more outrage than has greeted government claims that investment in higher education and research will increase by 23 per cent over the forward estimates. But the Department of Education and Training says the numbers show it is so.

From 2016-17 financial year to 2020-21Commonwealth Grant Scheme expenditure will be up from $6.9bn to $7bn, HELP loans will be up from $6.2bn to $9.5bn. HEPP will increase from $0.15bn to $0.16bn, research grants from $2.7bn to $3.1bn, and other investments from $0.7bn to $0.9bn. All up that’s a rise from $20.6bn to $20.7bn in financial years.

This will not calm critics who will point out that after two years of cuts CGS will barely move and that the bulk of the growth comes from student loans, presumably including to VET students. The government will reply that the overall public investment is up 20.7 per cent.

The question is, who will cross bench senators listen to.

Boys club

Engineering academics assemble at UNSW today for the seventh Asian summit of deans. Among a mass of men, Karen Hapgood from Deakin U and Simeon Simoff (Western Sydney U) will speak but there isn’t a bunch of gender balance, with five women among the 25 featured speakers.

In fact, there is not one paper about increasing the number of women who become engineers, which seems strange given the way industry bangs on about the need for more women in the discipline. Perhaps NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer Mary O’Kane will mention this when she addresses the conference tonight.

Derrington still on board

University of Queensland maritime law expert Sarah Derrington will serve a third term on the board of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Professor Derrington is academic dean of law at UoQ.


Curtin union demands a vote

On Friday, the National Tertiary Education Union called on Curtin University management to put its enterprise agreement offer to a staff vote, with the union saying the pay offer is too low and the number of reductions in codified employment condition too high. Management had previously offered staff four annual pay rises from the end of this year of 1 per cent, 1.25 per cent followed by two of 1.5 per cent. However, management now reports that due to the federal budget the offer is “under review”.

The union says it is responding to “what appears to be a decision by university management” to withdraw a request for the Fair Work Commission to help the two sides reach a deal. But Curtin says this is not so. “We remain committed to work with all our bargaining representatives, and the FWC if they might also assist, to achieve an appropriate outcome,” the university told CMM yesterday.

According to the union’s WA state secretary Gabe Gooding, “a number of compromise positions put by NTEU had been rejected by an increasingly intransigent management and that, after more than twelve months it is now time for management to put their position to staff”. But the university’s acting Chief Operating Officer Ian Jackson argues that while there is progress in some areas; “it is not surprising that we are at an impasse on superannuation and salary with the WA economy struggling, and the federal government seeking to reduce university funding whilst competition increases in the sector. Despite this, the NTEU continues to pursue its 17% superannuation and salary claims which are likely to have an adverse impact on job security and workloads, two things our staff continually tell us are their biggest priorities.”

The NTEU also wants management to undertake not to follow Murdoch U, which wants to end coverage of its now expired agreement – which would give managements the ability to reduce wages and conditions. However, Murdoch’s motive appears not to be to cut conditions but to pressure the union to accepts its terms. Murdoch’s application to cancel coverage under the old arrangement goes to Fair Work at the start of July.

The union’s move at Curtin has surprised observers who expected the university to follow Deakin U and do a quick deal, with the union accepting a relatively low pay rise in return for sparse substantive change to working rules, notably on discipline and workloads.  But the union appears to think staff would knock back management’s offer and that knowing this the university will return to negotiations with concessions.

In the past when managements took an offer to staff without NTEU support union outrage was loud and long but in this case at Curtin it looks like the comrades want a process that either puts management on the back foot or slows everything down in the west.

With the four public universities all toughing it out, the NTEU’s national leadership looks to be trying to quarantine the state while deals are done in states with more amenable universities – CMM hears the two-sides are making nice at the University of Adelaide, where union head office people are involved.

However, the longer the hard line holds in WA the more likely universities in other states will follow its lead. “It’s all in the balance right now, and I suspect the union is more nervous than it’s been for 20 years about the shape of a bargaining round,” an expert analyst says.

Jobs at UniNewcastle to go  (but no one knows how many)

Following six months of “detailed diagnostic and design” the University of Newcastle is implementing the first stage of its Organisational Design Project, with 30 professional staff positions to go over two years. Vice Chancellor Caroline McMillen says she hopes “a number of these” will go through natural attrition and not filling vacant positions with the process beginning this month.

University managers will now address “student facing” functions in the Academic Division, International and Advancement, IT Services, and faculties with a result expected by year’s end.

Restructure observers estimate that this could involve up to a further 130 positions, which the university rejects, telling CMM “there is no defined number – we are engaged in a genuine design and consultation process that does not finish until later this year.”

Professor McMillen also announced a major change in marketing infrastructure, with resources to be concentrated in the central marketing and comms areas. “It is the case that we have underinvested in marketing capacity and capability and that we need to have a better understanding of our markets and strategies for student recruitment,” the vice chancellor said.

The latest plan follows reviews of 17 academic and administrative operating units over the last three years.